The Experience of Grace

Tim Boyd – USA, Inda

Theosophy Tim 2

Recent photo of Tim Boyd, International President of the Theosophical Society Adyar

At the outset of H. P. Blavatsky’s (HPB) Diagram of Meditation she mentions two essentials required in order to engage in the process of meditation. First, she talks about the necessity to “conceive of Unity”, and then she talks about the twin aspects involved in such an effort.

The first is “by expansion in space”; the second is “infinite in time”. So, time and some sort of extension within our thinking becomes an important aspect of the meditative process. As we go through the process of just living a life, time is a variable experience. Even though we measure it in seconds, minutes, and hours, our experience of time varies. The old expression that “time flies when you’re having fun” is not just an “old-folks’” expression. It is our shared observation.

In moments of crisis or pain, it seems that time has a way of moving much more slowly. Time is not absolute or unchanging. It is also apparent that as we grow older time is a relative thing. It seems to pass more quickly. It is a common expression among older people: “Where did it all go? It seems like yesterday.” I hesitate when I am with friends who have children, because when I think about them, I remember them as small. When I ask about the small child, it turns out that now they have graduated from college, or are married. All of these things are part of this flexibility in the perception of time.

Given a long enough life, one thing that we realize is that it is impossible for us to know all that there is to know. During his life, Socrates was described as the wisest of all men. This recognition was based on something that was to him a fact, which he stated as: “I know that I do not know.” He also phrased it in another way: “I am ignorant of what I don’t know.” This recognition separated him from other people of deep knowledge. During the course of our lives, we study various philosophies and systems of thought in an effort to have a grasp on a greater reality. Invariably they come up short of giving an adequate description of reality.

In Indian spirituality four Brahmanic stages, or ashramas, of life are identified: (1) Youth, where we listen and learn. (2) the householder, where we apply the things we have heard to building a family and accumulating wealth. The final two phases relate to a process of maturation in the direction of our consciousness. (3) In the third ashrama, the ideal is a time of introspection. Having fulfilled the various responsibilities in life one enters a time to look more deeply at things, to try to connect with states beyond worldly conditions. So, it is described as the “forest-dweller”. (4) The fourth and final ashrama is the renunciant, where all worldly relationships are abandoned and the remaining life energies are focused on union with the Divine.

The system of the four ashramas was based on the ideal of eighty years of life, each phase being approximately twenty years. This age-related process was observed, standardized, and somewhat followed by a process of becoming more and more focused and aligned with reality, or Unity. Again, this was all connected to the idea that there is something beyond our capacity for knowledge.

There is an interesting pamphlet by I. K. Taimni that came out in the 1970s. It addresses the subject of divine grace and self-reliant effort, and the distinction between these two ways of viewing life and the world. “Grace” was defined as “an unmerited divine assistance”, or krpa in Sanskrit.

Taimni makes the point that grace as an experience is undeniable, and consistent with our own experience. There are times in most people’s lives where seemingly out of nowhere some exalted experience descends on us; where without any observable cause we are uplifted in ways that do not seem to be justified by our behavior. There are countless examples in human history. One of the most recognized and popularly sung songs in the English language is called “Amazing Grace”, which recounts one man’s experience. It was written by one who, in his later life, became a Christian minister, John Newton. When he had this experience of grace, however, he was far from being an exemplar of any religious practice whatsoever.

Theosophy Tim 3

Rick Wakeman and his daughter Jemma perform Amazing Grace. Click on the image to watch and listen. Pending on your location you might have to skip the ad

Earlier in his life Newton was a slave trader, a shipmaster who bought, sold, and transported African slaves during the 1700s. It was while crossing the Atlantic Ocean with a boatload of slaves that he had his experience of grace. The words of the song that he wrote years later describe it: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see”, are the words in the first verse of the song.

In the Bible there is the familiar story of the Prodigal Son who leaves his father’s house, takes his share of his father’s wealth, and squanders it all in traveling to reach a debased state in a far land. There he lives his life, cut off from the glories he had known, hungry, and working in the lowest occupation. One day he remembers how good his condition was in his father’s house. With the hard-won sense of all that he has left behind he declares: “I will arise and return to my father’s house.” So, there is this gracious moment that many would describe as unearned by his behaviors and activities. This lies outside of the range that we can normally claim to understand.

Another point that Taimni makes in his brief article is that there are two views conditioning the way many people live their spiritual lives. There are those who engage in the Bhakti path, emptying oneself in loving surrender to the Divine with the expectation, and the experience of “unearned”, divinely bestowed blessing. The Sanskrit word for the other approach of self-reliant effort is Purushârtha — the spirit (Purusha) whose purposeful activity (artha) is addressed to establishing a meaningful life. This is very much aligned with the theosophical point of view, that the universe is governed by laws of cause and effect, of Karma.

From the view of self-reliant effort, grace is not arbitrary and does not simply appear because some undeserving person asks, or prays for it. The thinking is that, even though it is unseen, there must be a cause. The question becomes, which of these competing ideas is correct? Or, what blending of these two is an accurate view of the universe and the way we function within it?

What we know is that every cause does not necessarily reveal itself in an immediate effect. In the realm of mechanics, or chemistry, results appear quickly, making an awareness of the linkage of cause and effect clear. We mix certain chemicals together and certain things happen right before our eyes. But in the life sciences it is different. When we talk about the biological world, which is made of living things, we plant a seed that looks like a pebble and over a period of time it becomes something very different. The causes inherent within that seed, when nurtured, show themselves over time.

Children are born in a birth process that is nine months from the time of conception to the time that a functional human being appears. In the geological world we hear about earthquakes occurring in different places around the world. This is a long-term phenomenon, where the tectonic plates of the Earth are pushing against each other over a period of time. The forces generated are unexpressed for a time, but at some moment there is a sudden powerful and destructive release. The causes do not reveal themselves instantaneously. There is the idea that a similar accumulation of inner effects is involved in experiences of grace.

For those who find value in the theory of reincarnation, when we think in terms of many lives, every single cause does not have its flowering in every life. We tend to divide Karma, which literally means “action”, into the two poles of cause and effect. Those ancient sages who gave deep thought to it classified Karma into three types: 1. Prârabdha: that karma which has “ripened” and finds expression in this life. 2. Sanchita: the total reservoir of our karma of which only a fraction is active in any given lifetime. 3. Âgami, the karma we are presently creating from moment to moment.

In Tibetan Buddhism they have a funny way of addressing the inexplicability of Grace while still maintaining the cause and effect Karma model. They recognize that even if we take karma as one of the laws of the universe, there are things that still remain unexplained. So, they have a category of karma described as “lucky karma”. It is not something that is necessarily a result of our actions, it is as if universal forces beyond our comprehension conspire and we are blessed.

One of the difficulties for us is that our consciousness is not sufficiently expansive to embrace a complete description of reality. However deep we may be as students or practitioners, as was said in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.” Even HPB, in writing The Secret Doctrine, commented that many of the words and thoughts were not her own, and that very frequently she was given things to write that she did not fully understand.

Whether we call it grace or just the nature of things, we find that there are certain things embedded in us that are not the result of our efforts. The whole idea that there is a Divine Plan in which not only we, but every atom and energy of this universe functions is fundamental to an appreciation of spirituality. We are an infinitesimal part of a Greater Life to which our personal will and efforts are meaningless. Within us there is a pattern that is imprinted in such a way that by effort or by Grace we are all destined to grow into the fullness of the Divine itself.

These are thoughts that can assist us in developing a balanced approach. J. Krishnamurti called Truth “a pathless land”. There are no established means to explore or describe it. Rumi, in his poem, said: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.” We are surrounded and permeated by a universal consciousness that is divine in its nature. We are here to connect with that.

This article was also published in The Theosophist VOL. 145 NO. 3 DECEMBER 2023

The Theosophist is the official organ of the International President, founded by H. P. Blavatsky on 1 Oct. 1879.

To read the DECEMBER 2023 issue click HERE

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